Dom Columba Marmion

A beatificação a 3 de setembro de 2000
Discursos e intervenções

Dom Mark Tierney, OSB, Abadia de Glenstal
Homilia proferida na Dundrum Church
17 setembro 2000 (english)

"The favours of the Lord are not all past,
His kindnesses are not exhausted;
Every morning they are renewed;
Great is his faithfulness"
(Lamentations, ch. 3)

Your Grace, Father O'Doherty and Friends of the Blessed Columba Marmion,

We are gathered here this evening, to give thanks to God for the life and work of Blessed Columba Marmion. We also give thanks to Pope John Paul II, for having beatified Columba Marmion just two weeks ago in Rome. But we must also express our thanks to those many faithful disciples of Marmion, who down the years have prayed for his beatification. And surely this parish of Dundrum must rank first among these faithful disciples, who have helped to perpetuate his name and his reputation for sanctity in this city of Dublin. I could think of no more deserving place for us to meet and to express our gratitude, than here in this church. For it was here that the young Fr. Marmion celebrated Mass and exercised his priestly ministry, during the years 1881 and 1882.

Already, at this early stage of his life, he had discovered the secret of communicating with people. Above all, he had discovered the joy of caring for people and leading them to God. Today, the Marmion Society carries on this work of helping and caring for the people of Dundrum parish. It is a blessed task, one which I know continues to bring joy, comfort and grace, to the hundreds of people who use the Dom Marmion House. May God and the Blessed Columba Marmion smile on your work and give you the strength to carry on.

I have here in my hand a pocket-watch, which belonged to the young Fr. Marmion. It is one of several such watches that he owned. No, he did not collect watches, he gave them away - usually to people who were in want, when he had no money or anything else of value to give them.

There is an authenticated story of his giving a watch to a poor man during his days in Dundrum. The watch which I now have, was the last one he owned before he left Dublin in 1886, to become a monk in Belgium. Before his departure for the Abbey of Maredsous, believing that as a monk he would not be allowed to own a watch, he gave it to his friend, Fr. Michael Walsh, a fellow professor at Holy Cross College, Clonliffe. Since that day, the watch has travelled thousands of miles, in fact, to Australia and back. It came into my possession in 1995, when it was sent to Glenstal through the kindness of Fr. Frank O'Gorman. It will form part of the shrine to the Blessed Columba Marmion in the church of Glenstal Abbey.

TIME played an important role in the life of the Blessed Columba Marmion. He realised that TIME was one of God's greatest gifts to his creatures. We always have Time for our own little schemes, for the things that interest us. But according to Marmion, we also have to make time for God in our lives. One of his favourite phrases was this : "PRAYER IS NOTHING MORE THAN SPENDING TIME WITH GOD". In one of his early diaries, which he kept as a novice in Maredsous, he wrote under Good Friday 1887 : "Spent three hours with God in prayer today".

One of the highlights of the Beatification ceremony in Rome on 3 September, was the homily of His Holiness, John Paul II. When he came to speak of Columba Marmion, he did so in English. Let me quote just one sentence from his homily : "Dom Columba Marmion, in his writings, teaches a simple yet demanding way of holiness for all the faithful, whom God has destined in love to be his adopted children through Jesus-Christ". " A simple, yet demanding way of holiness" ! The key word is Holiness. It is interesting to note that the Vatican daily newspaper l'Osservatore Romano, when reporting the Beatification of Pius IX, John XXIII, Tommaso Reggio, William Chaminade and Columba Marmion, put as the main heading of their leading article "Five Men linked by a desire for Holiness". The actual words used by the pope, who was speaking in Italian at that point, were these : "Five different personalities, each with his own features and his own mission, all linked by a longing for holiness". To "long for" something is a little stronger than just to "desire" it. From the beginning of his priestly life, Marmion had already made his own the opening lines of the Psalm : "Like a deer that yearns for running water, so my soul years for you, my God". Longing and yearning for God was the one goal of his life, a goal he also set for all his spiritual sons and daughters.

Marmion was no plaster saint. I liked very much the subtle, and even amusing, phrase of Pope John Paul II, when he said that each of the five men beatified on 3 September had their own features, as well as their own mission. Marmion and John XXIII were very noticeable by their larger than life features. There is the story told of Columba Marmion when in Rome, attending a large liturgical gathering in the abbey church of Sant'Anslemo, for the election of the Abbot Primate. To accomodate the large assembly of prelates, every available chair and bench in the College had been requisitioned and conveniently placed in the sanctuary or in the choir for the abbots, in their due order of precedence. It so happened that the place reserved for Abbot Marmion was a bench intended to accomodate four persons. But the three abbots who were to share the bench with Marmion were men of more than normal girth. They were already installed when Marmion arrived, and when the latter, who was likewise known for his considerable bulk, came upon the scene, his look of beatific amusement was unforgetable. He turned to the young Master of Ceremonies and in mixed French and Italian said : "Ma, possible, mon enfant ?" . No one enjoyed the situation more than he. Such was the exterior life of the Blessed Columba Marmion, which was perhaps best expressed in the words of a young Irish girl, to whom he had given a rosary beads. She told him quite bluntly : "Father Abbot, your heart is as big as your belly".

But what of his interior life : The life of the soul of Columba Marmion ? We only have to peruse his own writings : Christ, the life of the soul; Christ, in His mysteries; Christ, the ideal of the monk, to recognise the story of his own spiritual ascent, and realise that Marmion became indeed, one of those chosen souls who are "clothed with God as with a garment". He wrote, not only from his own CONVICTION, but from his own EXPERIENCE; He had found God, before he attempted to speak of God to others. And having found God, he set himself as his life-long mission: to bring God to people and to bring people to God".

One of the principal symbols employed by Marmion to bring people to God, was the Cross, the Cross as the sign of the triumph of Christ over Satan. The Cross as a sign of Victory, not defeat. Here we are, gathered in this church dedicated to the Holy Cross. It was no mere chance that Marmion spent many happy years in Holy Cross College, Clonlifffe, and then later, one happy year labouring on the mission in Dundrum, in this church of the Holy Cross.

I am certain that this persisting experience in the two Holy Crosses, had an indelible effect upon him.

It is said that he made the Stations of the Cross everyday of his priestly life. He saw the Cross as more than a mere sign or symbol, but rather as the key to the understanding of the human condition. From Baptism, when we are first signed with the Cross, up to the moment of our death, when we give our last loving look at the crucifix, the Cross is never far from our lives. Marmion composed a very moving commentary on the Stations of the Cross, which is printed in chapter XIV of Christ, in his Mysteries. In one of his reflections, he says : "The more we enter into these dispositions that filled the Heart of Jesus as he made his sorrowful way to Calvary, the more our souls will receive graces and lights, because, the Father will behold in us a more perfect image of His Divine Son".

I don't want you to go away from this church thinking that Marmion was one of those people who lock themselves away in their monastic cells, kill-joys, who never make a joke or give a good laugh. On the contrary Marmion was full of fun, a wonderful friend. He had many, many friends, from every walk of life, rich and poor, young and old. I have no intention here of name-dropping. Some 2000 letters, written by him, have been preserved, which throw new light on his character and personality. Even his hand-writing is distinctive, and his style clear and precise, for he had an ordered mind.

Let me tell you the story of one of his correspondents, a young lady, who wanted to become a religious sister. She wrote asking his advice, and he recommended the Dominicans. However, after a few months in the convent she left, and again sought his advice. This time he suggested the Carmelites, so she offered herself to the local Carmelite convent, and was accepted. But this did not work out either. Yet, she still persisted. Marmion never lost patience with her, though at this stage he began addressing her as "My Dear Mousie". He thought of her as a Mouse, going in and out of a hole in a room. She never took offense. In the end, she did find a convent, the Poor Clares, that suited her. In all his letters thereafter, he still addressed her as "My dear Mousie". When the monks of Maredsous began studying Marmion's letters, they were baffled by the series of "Dear Mousie" ones. They looked up every English dictionary of names, and found "Mickey Mouse" and even "Minnie Mouse", but no "Mousie". So, they simply put a capital "M", and the letters were headed "My dear M...". They had missed the nuance, and had also missed out on Marmion's sense of humour.

The lives of the saints are meant to inspire us to seek a similar holiness. Saints are above all, people of prayer. Marmion never tired of saying that "Prayer is the only sure path to holiness". I will leave you with the quotation from the Book of Lamentations, which I gave at the beginning :

"The favours of the Lord are not all past,
His kindnesses are not exhausted;
Every morning they are renewed;
Great is His faithfulness". Amen.